PA Wine Buying Adventure #69473

For those of you not familiar with the Peoples’ Republic of Pennsylvania, the state has a monopoly on both spirits and wine sales (except PA wineries which are accorded “special” status).

So, lunchtime Friday I was in a local Wine & Spirits Shoppe (the state likes quaint names for its government monopolies) and spied a bottle of the 2005 Domaine Drouhin Laurene with a “sticker” price under $50. As I had no time for research, and a meeting ahead of me, I waited until I got home that evening to check it out.

The PLCB website had a much higher advertised price ($69.99), so I figured they had failed to put a new sticker on the bottle when the price changed.

So, I returned to the store Friday night, grabbed the bottle (still marked “$49.99”) and headed to checkout. Lo and behold, the scan comes up “$69.99.” I point to the sticker on the bottle, and now the clerk doesn’t know what to do. First, he calls the “specialty wine manager” who eyes me suspiciously and asks, “Where did you get this?” as if I had procured it from secret stash (or, worse, switched stickers from another bottle). I tell him it was in the “cold room,” and he disappears with the bottle. 5 minutes later, he returns and tells me it was a “mistake” for the bottle to be available for purchase.

I point to a poster not 10 feet away announcing that Veronique Drouhin-Boss herself will be appearing live and in person at that very store in a week, and suggest she might be interested in this “mistake.”

Next up: the store manager on duty. He chides the “specialty wine manager” and assures me he will sell me the bottle for $49.99. One problem - it’s virtually impossible to override a price in the PLCB computer system. Four phone calls (I think the last one may have been to Ed Rendell) and nine (count 'em, nine!) override attempts later, I hand the store manager my Visa card, and walk out with the bottle for $49.99.

Lesson: a single bottle purchase amounting to under $50 required the, ahem, “expertise” of at least 7 PA government employees, and more than 15 minutes to complete. Another great story to tell my students when someone asks what’s wrong with the government having a monopoly in any aspect of our lives.

Great story. Hope you took the bottle to one of our great BYOBs to celebrate your victory!

  1. They had a bottle you were interested in, listed at an exceptional price.

  2. Although a mistake was made, they honored the accidental price, which is below anything on WSearcher and 25%+ off their list.

  3. Despite difficulties operating their equipment, the store manager took steps to make sure your purchase was successful.

It took a bit of perseverance, but overall, it sounds like PLCB delivered.


I think you’re both right. Now, taking off my diplomatic hat . . . you’re both ignorant sluts. [tease.gif]

Yipes…Don’t take anything else off! [truce.gif]


They have a policy of taking back purchases.
Go to another store where the bottle is $69.99 and try to get the $69.99 back!
Our taxes will go up [cheers.gif]

On a more optimistic note: The governor-elect has made selling off the PLCB a prime objective. And, with both houses now in GOP hands - it may come to pass. The new Senate majority leader has a bill crafted and I understand the new House majority leader will go along.

So, there is a sliver of hope. My expectations are that we may end up with a very restrictive three-tier system if there is any change at all.

More hope: wine kiosks are coming to my local supermarket - can’t wait!

my read as well.

i love how getting exactly what he wanted, but didn’t deserve, is somehow a bad thing.

kids these days!

Will they learn what you want them to? I don’t know you, but I what I get out of this story is that you felt entitled to this bottle of wine at $50 even though you knew the correct price is $70. Why is that? I can understand if you honestly thought that $50 was the correct price, but you knew it wasn’t. So, all these people worked hard to get you a low price you didn’t deserve, and you are bashing them? Did you tell them you knew it was the wrong price when you picked it up to buy it? If it was marked at $5, would you still feel entitled to that price?

BTW the computer problems they were overcoming on your behalf are not unique to government run businesses. I have had similar experiences in large corporate chains.

Steve, don’t pay any attention to all this negativity. Clearly living in more sensible wine states has made it impossible for these guys to understand your pleasure at a rare victory over “THE (PA WINE) MAN”.

I agree with you about monopolies and government-run liquor stores, but it ends there.

My take is this is exactly a huge part of the problems in our country right now: no matter the circumstance, I’m “entitled” to take advantage of your mistake and have you bear the cost and be held accountable. But, no one wants it to happen to them. Everyone wants to dispense justice, but receive mercy.

Exploiting what you know is a mistake, boasting about it, and using it to teach your students how bad “the gubbermint” is after the employees did everything they could to get you your “deal” is really beyond the pale.

I imagine people who see nothing wrong in doing this are also outraged when, say, people take advantage of government programs like what happened with the credit cards after Hurricane Katrina. The moral compass in both cases is pointing in the wrong direction.

I can say that it is far easier to vote (legally or fraudulently) in PA than to buy alcohol after an experience last week at the local polling location. After becoming used to overregulation in buying alcohol in PA (e.g., capturing my driver’s ID, whether 21 or 101 years old, for 6 pack purchases and doing the same plus blowing into a breathalyzer for wine kisosk purchases), I had my driver’s license handy and asked what I needed to do to prove identity.

I was told all I needed to do was write my name on a 2" by 2" piece of yellow paper and then sign the book after they found me in an alphabetical listing after they “inspected” said yellow piece of paper. Voting, with a fake ID or no ID – ok. Buying wine without ID and a breathalyzer blow – not on the PLCB’s watch.

The “correct” price, IMO, is always the price posted on the product itself (unless the posted price is a clear error, such as the '96 Lafite for $49.99!). Obviously, the PLCB adjusted price upward $20 sometime after the bottle hit the shelf.

Yes, ultimately, the store personnel did the right thing, but the initial - very suspicious - response by the specialty wine manager kind of raised the hair on the back of my neck. This guy has known me for years as a good and knowledgeable customer. Methinks he was embarrassed that the (incorrect) sticker was still on the bottle.

As for privatizing the PLCB, I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. Five and a half years after the Supreme Court ruled that out-of-state shippers must be treated the same as in-state shippers, the State of PA is still in violation of that ruling. If you want to purchase wine from a PA winery, you can order directly and have the wine shipped right to your doorstep; if you, heaven forbid, prefer wine not made in PA, you have to have it shipped to a PLCB store, pay a 25% tax, a "handling’ fee, travel to the store, and show your ID. So much for direct shipping being about keeping alcohol out of the hands of teenagers!

Great take Brian. Love the perspective.

Stephen, equating taking advantage of an advertised price and credit card fraud (or whatever you are alluding too) is just plain silly (not to mention comparing Steve’s behavior to the fall of Western Civilization). Obviously, since Steve got the price, the store employees agree (even if somewhat reluctantly).

Really? A mistake with a price gun overrides the price in the system? And you’re actually teaching kids? God, I hope it’s nothing to do with ethics.

I am not approaching the entitlement issue at all, but to those of you not in PA, realize this, you can still buy 2005 Trontanoy for less than 2006 Trontanoy at the PLCB stores. The pricing at the PA stores never makes any sense. The exact same wine can be listed with numeropus prices, and often is.

Come on, the is the Commonwealth. [snort.gif]

They are not really going to put a Kiosk in the Wynnewood Genaurdi’s, are they?

That will be great! I can see the line now! [rofl.gif]

If they had refused to sell me the bottle at $49.99, I would have walked away. I never demanded that they sell it to me at that price. Their price gun, BTW, is connected to a computer, which attaches the price above the bar code when the sticker is printed. All the price gun does is scan the bar code already on the winery’s label, matches it up with the PLCB database, and prints the sticker. No room for human error.

Many large chain retailers have a specific policy that states that if the price scans higher than what is printed on the item, not only do they sell it to you for the printed price, they also give you additional compensation.

Apparently you are unfamiliar with the concept of arbitrage - a topic which I happen to teach. Arbitrageurs spot mispricings and buy or sell based on those mispricings. Their actions correct mispricings, as in my case, where the remaining bottles were immediately given new stickers reflecting the higher price. If you wish to discuss ethics, I did not attempt to benefit from the mispricing by buying up all the remaining inventory (as I could have easily done) and then resold them at a higher price.

I won’t go so far as to say I did the PLCB a favor. My wife said that! pileon

What are you complaining about here? You get a ‘deal’ and bitch about it?